The best time to plan on seeding a new lawn is in late summer. Late summer seedings (August 15 to September 15) have a much higher success rate than spring seedings for a number of reasons. The warm days, cool nights, and more regular precipitation are ideal conditions for seedling growth. There is also much less weed competition in the fall than in early spring.
The proper establishment of a home lawn is not an easy task. However, if you follow proper establishment procedures and plant high quality seed, the end results will be well worth your effort.
The first step to seeding a new lawn is to have the soil tested. The establishment of a lawn is the only opportunity you will have to incorporate limestone and/or fertilizer into the root zone. Soil testing by a competent laboratory will determine what the limestone and fertilizer requirements are. Preparing the seedbed is the most labor intensive and time-consuming step in seeding a new lawn, but it is also very important. A well-prepared seedbed is essential for rapid, successful establishment of a lawn.
Preparing the seedbed involves several steps.
The most important step in seeding a new lawn is selecting the right grass for the site. Many problems that develop in home lawns are a result of grass species or varieties not adapted to the site or use.
There are several lawn grass species that are adapted to Long Island conditions. The grass that is best for your lawn will depend on 1) your quality standards, 2) the amount of maintenance you are willing to provide, 3) the amount of shade, and 4) how the lawn will be used.
Quality vs. Maintenance
Everyone has their own idea of what a quality lawn is. The beautiful, dark green Kentucky bluegrass lawn that is the pride of the neighborhood is probably the most expensive and time-consuming lawn to maintain. At the other extreme is the zoysiagrass lawn that is brown eight months of the year and is very slow to form a dense lawn area. The lawn, however, rarely needs mowing, watering, or other special care.
The needs of most people probably lie in between these two extremes, but balancing maintenance and quality is an individual decision that should be carefully considered.
The maintenance requirements of some of the common turfgrass types are listed in order starting from the least maintenance to the most maintenance required: zoysiagrass, tall fescue, fine fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and creeping bentgrass.
Amount of Shade
One of the most frequent causes of turf deterioration is shade. Grass species differ in their ability to tolerate shade. Before selecting the grass for your lawn, consider the amount of shade the grass will be subjected to now and as the trees grow.
The shade tolerance of some of the common turfgrass types are listed in order starting from the most shade tolerant to the least shade tolerant: fine fescue, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, creeping bentgrass, and zoysia grass.
Type of Lawn Use
How your lawn is going to be used will have a big influence on the grass you select. If your lawn is used mainly for show, wear resistance is not an important consideration. If the lawn gets frequent family or neighborhood use, select a grass or mixture of grasses that will resist wear and recover quickly.
The wear resistance and recuperative ability of some of the common turfgrass types are listed in order starting from the highest to the lowest wear resistance: zoysiagrass, tall fescue, ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue, creeping bentgrass.
The following lists the grass types from highest to lowest in the recuperative ability: creeping bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, ryegrass, fine fescue and zoysia grass.
Kentucky bluegrass is the best adapted and most popular lawn grass in New York. Kentucky bluegrass is dark green in color with medium-textured leaves. Bluegrass will form a tight-knit, attractive sod due to its ability to spread by underground stems (rhizomes). There are many Kentucky bluegrass varieties available. Improved varieties of bluegrass are more resistant to leafspot and the other diseases than the common types. Select a seed mixture that contains at least three improved bluegrass varieties. Bluegrass varieties that have done well in New York include Adelphi, Baron, Bonnieblue, Bristol, Cheri, Glade, Nassau, Midnight, Ram I, Touchdown, Victa and others.
Perennial ryegrass is a bunch type grass that is used in seed mixtures primarily because of its ability to germinate and establish quickly. It is medium to coarse in texture and dark green in color. Ryegrass does not tolerate extremes in temperature, and therefore it is usually not recommended that a lawn be seeded with 100% ryegrass. However, because of its exceptional durability and rapid establishment rate, improved varieties are often blended with bluegrasses.
Improved ryegrass varieties for use in blends include Manhattan II, Citation II, Derby, Diplomat, Cowboy, Palmer, Yorktown II, and others.
Fine fescues are used in blends for shaded conditions and where low maintenance is desired. They are superior to most cool-season grasses in shade adaptation and are compatible in mixes with Kentucky bluegrass. Like ryegrass, fine fescues germinate and establish quickly.
Fine fescues form a very fine-textured turf of high shoot density. They are medium to dark green in color and spread by tillers and rhizomes (creeping red fescue). Drought tolerance is superior to bluegrass. However, during periods of hot, dry weather, the fine fescues may lose their color rapidly.
Improved varieties of fine fescues include Ensylva, Highlight, Fortress, Jamestown, Atlanta, Biljart and others.
Tall fescue is the most heat and drought tolerant of the cool-season grasses. It is often used where a low-maintenance lawn is desired. Tall fescues are medium to dark green in color and are coarse textured. They are bunch-type grasses that must be planted thick to form a good sod. Combining up to 10% Kentucky bluegrass in a mix will greatly reduce the coarse, clumpy appearance of tall fescue.
When tall fescue is maintained at three inches, weeds will rarely be a problem. There are few serious disease or insect problems with tall fescue, and thatch is rarely a problem unless the lawn is overwatered or overfertilized. Tall fescue is a fast-growing grass, so more frequent mowing will be required.
Finer-leaved, turf-type tall fescue varieties such as Rebel and Falcon have been released in recent years.
Once you have acquired a high-quality seed mixture, divide the total seed quantity in half. Sow one-half in one direction and the other half at right angles to the first. This practice will insure uniform coverage.
100% Kentucky bluegrass ---- 1 - 1 1/2 lbs./1,000 sq.ft.
80% Kentucky bluegrass
20% Perennial ryegrass ---- 2 - 2 1/2 lbs./1,000 sq.ft.
50% Kentucky bluegrass
50% Perennial ryegrass ---- 3 - 3 1/2 lbs./1,000 sq.ft.
50% Kentucky bluegrass
50% Fine fescues ---- 2 1/2 - 3 lbs./1,000 sq.ft.
100% Fine fescues ---- 3 - 4 lbs./1,000 sq.ft.
100% Tall fescues ---- 5 - 7 lbs./1,000 sq.ft.
Lightly rake the seed and fertilizer into the soil to cover the seed with no more than 1/4 inch of soil. Roll the area lightly to insure good seed to soil contact.
Grass seedlings are very susceptible to desiccation and the surface of a newly seeded lawn should not be allowed to dry. Water should only be applied in amounts necessary to keep the soil surface moist. Avoid overwatering and runoff.
The time it takes before you observe germination will vary with species. Be patient! It may be as long as three weeks before Kentucky bluegrass seedlings appear.
Before you know it, it will be time to mow your new lawn. Don't worry about how fragile it looks, the new grass should be mowed when it reaches 3 to 3 1/2 inches in height. Mowing at this time will promote the spreading and thickening of the grass.
You may notice broadleaf weeds germinating in your seedbed as well. Don't fret. Most broadleaf weeds can be easily controlled with a broad-spectrum herbicide after the turf is established. It is recommended that you withhold herbicide applications until the turf has been mowed at least twice.
Seeding a new lawn can be a very rewarding experience if done properly. Careful planning and wise decisions will prevent future problems and disappointments.
Adapted from: Long Island Gardening, August 1989 which was written by Norman W. Hummel, Jr. Extension Turfgrass Specialist Cornell University.